First Indigenous CrossFit Level One Scholarship Program Comes to Navajo Nation
In November of 2021, Native American Heritage month, CrossFit announced it was partnering with the Native Strength and Rezilience Project (NSRZP) to bring a level one scholarship seminar to Page, AZ at Powell CrossFit to help members of the Navajo Nation earn their CrossFit training certificate.
Just over two weeks ago, 12 aspiring Indigenous CrossFit coaches were joined by three members of the CrossFit seminar staff to train and prepare. It was just the first step in a much bigger plan to help their community combat chronic disease through fitness and nutrition.
“We wanted all of the attendees to be from the reservation,” said Paul Baughman, the owner of Powell CrossFit. “So they could take this [CrossFit training] back there, they have the desire to go back and offer something in their areas.”
The CrossFit Scholarship Program was created during Dave Castro’s brief stint as CEO in 2020 and held its inaugural seminar at CrossFit Downtown Atlanta that year. The program is run by CrossFit HQ Flowmaster Chuck Carswell and a select group of seminar staff members.
The mission of the Scholarship Program is “to spark meaningful healthcare changes in underrepresented and underserved communities by providing foundational health and fitness education through free access to the CrossFit Level 1 Certificate Course.”
“The Scholarship Program is designed to work with, help, and try to present CrossFit as a possibility for future development, growth and health and fitness, and it doesn’t matter if it’s in the inner city or if it’s out in remote areas of the desert,” Chuck Carswell said.
The Navajo Nation is comprised of 330,000 people and retains the largest land area by a Native American tribe in the United States. It occupies portions of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah; about 47 percent of the population lives on the reservation, where one in five adults is diabetic and another 75,000 are prediabetic. The leading causes of death among Native Americans across the United States are heart disease, chronic liver disease/cirrhosis, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and stroke.
Alleia King, the first female Navajo/Dine person to earn a CrossFit training certificate (in 2021), founded the Native Strength and Rezilience Project with Paul Baughman to provide fitness, nutrition and health education and training throughout the Navajo Reservation. The coaches and leaders of the organization will travel to remote parts of the community to share nutrition lessons, teach foundational movements, hold group workouts, provide home workouts and more.
King, Baughman and Carswell connected in late 2021 and put plans in motion to bring the Scholarship Program to Indian Country, and executed those plans on March 12 and 13, 2022.
Twelve aspiring Indigenous trainers converged on Powell CrossFit from all over the Navajo Nation for two days of instruction and learning from CrossFit seminar staff, led by Level 4 trainer and Flowmaster, Michele Mootz. “It was so cool because they all had different experience levels, from people who had never done CrossFit all the way to people who had been doing it for several years,” Baughman said.
“It was electric, to be honest. You could see the emotion–some of them got very emotional at times (talking about the health problems in their communities) and all of them were just excited to learn and take this knowledge forward,” Mootz said, “I don’t know that you can ask for anything more.”
“I have to give props to Paul and Alleia,” she continued, “Those 12 people were so prepared…they knew the [Level One Training Guide] backwards, forwards, upside down.”
Baughman and King talked about Mootz’s leadership during the seminar and ability to inspire the attendees. “She brought it,” they said, the way she taught the methodology and foundational movements intrigued the participants and during quiet moments, they talked about how “grateful they were for the opportunity and impressed with the level of knowledge of the trainers.”
One participant, Virginia Black, summed up her experience perfectly, “As someone absolutely new to CrossFit, I walked into this seminar with every emotion. I was nervous, anxious, excited and eager. I was beginning a new chapter in my life with the intention to open up new possibilities for my community.”
“The whole experience was enlightening,” she continued, “the knowledge and guidance of the team was so motivating and inspiring that I knew I made the right choice to be there.”
About her future goals, Black said “I plan to help train CrossFit at the Navajo Special Diabetes Program’s (forthcoming) Wellness Center in Kayenta, AZ.”
The Level One Seminar at Powell CrossFit was just the beginning, as Black’s plans indicate. But King, Baughman and the NSRZP are already looking ahead. They plan to support the new L1 trainers (once they pass their exams, of course), in a variety of ways.
“They are open to start training in whatever ways work for them. Whether they have a space already and can begin offering CrossFit, like three of the participants from Window Rock (the capital of the Navajo Nation), which has a ‘CrossFit-type’ space, or, like a few of them from more isolated locations, may create group fitness classes outside,” Baughman said.
“The goal for the NSRZP is to help facilitate easier avenues for them to get the space and equipment they need, so we’ve been working on that. We’ve been in communication with different entities on the Navajo reservation” to help gain access to land and building space where none currently exists.
Additionally, the NSRZP plans to attend community events around the Navajo Nation with trainers from the seminar to deliver the message of CrossFit, run free workouts and challenges, and share nutrition information. Some of the participants speak the Navajo language and will be able to deliver that message in the Indigenous language of the region.
And, there are plans in the works for another Scholarship Program Seminar in the future, King and Baughman already have a waiting list of participants. “I hope this was the first of many,” Michele Mootz added, “we will be back whenever they want us.”